In 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Kaiser Permanente began what would become a landmark study on the health effects of adverse childhood experiences, or what is often reffered to as “The Ace Study”. Over the course of two years researchers collected detailed medical information from 17,000 patients at Kaiser’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. In addition to personal and family medical history, participants were asked about childhood experiences of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction, such as emotional and physical neglect, sexual and physical abuse, exposure to violence in the household, and household members who had substance abuse problems, or had been in prison.
Researchers found that the presence of these negative experiences in childhood was predictive of lifelong problems with health and well-being. The more negative experiences a participant had, the more likely — and numerous — these problems became. Another disquieting finding was that adverse childhood experiences were incredibly common. Almost two-thirds of participants had endured at least one adverse childhood experience, and more than 1 in 5 respondents had endured three or more such experiences. In the decades that followed, this discovery of the prevalence and devastating effects of trauma spurred the development of practices such as trauma-informed counseling, which stresses the importance of recognizing and treating trauma, and most importantly, preventing additional trauma.
The notion of trauma-informed care is an umbrella term, which describes the overarching principles regarding trauma recovery. Trauma-informed therapy utilizes psychoeducation to help clients understand the roots of their behavior by explaining trauma’s effects on the brain and emotional regulation. Therapists also help clients learn and understand the real importance of basic self-care, emotional regulation techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness techniques and visualization, and that a focus on wellness including states of calm and joy on a daily basis is the best way to stabilize the repetitive trauma arousal response of the nervous system. Structural Dissociation techniques of “Mapping” and “Parts Work” also helps to orient the clients to their symptoms in a new way that helps to lower arousal and inceases states of calm. Once clients are emotionally stabilized then the work of healing the underlying trauma begins using a variety of specific trauma focused approaches such as EMDR, Internal Family Systems, Trauma Informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Sensory-motor and somatic therapies, etc. Safety is a key concept in trauma work helping clients to avoid overwhelm, to orient to the here and now using mindfulness techniques, and always giving power, choice, and control in the process.
How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime
“Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. Watch Dr. Burke Harris’ impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.” (Source)
How trauma affects the Nervous System: A Polyvagal Perspective
“This video was developed to give a basic introduction and overview of how trauma and chronic stress affects our nervous system and how those effects impact our health and well-being. Much of the content is based on the groundbreaking work of Stephen Porges and his Polyvagal Theory and inspired and informed by the work of thought leaders Deb Dana, Vincent Felitti, Robert Anda, Gabor Mate, Dan Siegel and Peter Levine.”